Donte Mathis is a 11 year European leagues veteran. The San Antonio native point-guard just turned 33 and has experiences in Germany BBL, Slovenia and Italy. In his second year with the Lega Due team Snaidero Udine he has been named the team captain. Donte was very kind to talk to Basketball Telegraph columnist Dr FingerRoll about his career in Europe thus far, the transition from American basketball to European ball when just graduated, the NBA dream and what rookies need to make it in Europe.
Since I was a kid I was a huge fan of the game, I developed a passion for it at a young age, there was some sort of a culture of basketball around me, the older guys that I would look up were playing basketball, and the whole city of San Antonio is passionate about the game.
When did you realize basketball could become more than just a game for you?
When I was about 15/16 years old because I had the opportunity to get a scholarship and that was the first indication that I could use basketball as a tool to have my education paid for and then, if everything went well, I could get paid to do something that I love: the American dream right there.
After college, did you have the "NBA dream"?
Well, to go to the NBA is everybody's dream, but at the same time you have to realize where you are in the big spectrum: everybody wants to go to the NBA, but not everybody can go to the NBA. For me it was always a dream to go to the League, but after college I realized that I wasn't going to play there, so the next step was to prepare myself as best as I could to play in Europe and I have no regrets, I am still a huge fan of the NBA, I watch it all the time but I'm totally happy with where my life is right now.
Tell us about the first experience outside the U.S., was it a culture shock for you?
It was a very huge culture shock, also because I didn't go to a city where there was an outside influence, I went to a small town in East Germany where they kinda forced me to think outside of my comfort zone and, of course, I had to adapt quickly. Thank God I had guys on my team - both Americans and Europeans - that were social and friendly enough to help me adapt.
How important it is to be comfortable in the place where you play?
The older I get the more important it is, because you spend 9 to 10 months in one place so it's good to be comfortable, even in a superficial sense - the city, the house, etc. - but when you go to any place in Europe if you're winning that makes it automatically comfortable; you could be in a village, but if you are winning every game and having fun it's the best experience.
Let's imagine you are talking to a player who's graduating from college this year and wants to play overseas, what would you tell him?
It's funny you ask me this, because this summer with a friend of mine we started a program to help young guys who are finishing college and young players who are in Europe but are trying to get to different areas and to better situations. Well, my advice is, first off, you have to work as hard as you possibily can, because there are so many guys trying to play basketball and very little jobs, so you have to be in the best shape and you don't have to be stuck in your own ways, because a lot of times you're not gonna go into a situation where everything is perfect, so you gotta have a self discipline that will allow you to succeed and also, well, you need some luck to end up in the right situation, or maybe there's a team in need of a player and you're that player or somebody gets hurt and they need a player..it comes down to luck, so you have to be in the right place and the right time but you gotta be ready.
Tell BT readers more about your program.
In Houston everyday during the summer we had some 25-30 guys - some of them out of college, others with one or two years pro experience - with whom we did a lot of player development to get them ready for the European season since the American game is a lot different from the European game. For me it's just a way of giving back, I just give my time and my experience to try to put them in situations where they can better their careers, better their lives. I give them advice on daily basis in the gym. It's really rewarding when a young kid comes to me and can't get a job and I help him and then he gets a contract and he comes back to me saying "thank you, I appreciated it": it's the best reward for me. We'll try to expand it every year and try to help as many kids as we can to fullfill their dreams.